Thursday bird walks provide amazing look into avian life at Lake Tahoe |

Thursday bird walks provide amazing look into avian life at Lake Tahoe

A beautiful and colorful snow plant greeted us on the Village Green bird walk.
Courtesy Toree Warfield |

Several Sierra species

Kirk led us on to find this impressive list of birds that morning:

• Black-headed grosbeak, male and female

• Wilson’s warbler

• Yellow-rumped warbler

• Warbling vireo

• Barn swallow

• Violet-green swallow

• Mourning dove

• Mountain chickadee

• Pygmy nuthatch

• Brown creeper

• Western wood-pewee

• Brewer’s blackbird

• Brown-headed cowbird

• White-headed woodpecker

• American robin

• Steller’s jay

I was walking in South Lake Tahoe a few mornings back, when above my head there arose such a clatter, so I looked toward the skies to see what was the matter? Swooping overhead was a flock of violet-green swallows, snatching bugs out of the air and chattering as they hunted.

I learned about violet-green swallows last year when I first attended an early-morning bird walk with Tahoe Institute for Natural Science (TINS), led by co-founder, Will Richardson.

Swallows have a sort of boomerang-shaped silhouette as they fly. The violet-green swallow has a noticeable white breast, making it easy to separate the bird from the barn swallow, which has an orange breast, both of which can be found on the Village Green where the walks are held, flying overhead.

On a subsequent walk on the Green, led by Kirk Hardie, the other co-founder of TINS, we again spotted a flock of violet-green swallows, feasting on the insect banquet present in that nature area with creeks on either side flowing into the lake.

Many people use the Village Green for dog play, but perhaps many of us are not aware that it is also an amazing bird habitat. Kirk told us that the combination of the slow water on one side, resulting in a mini-wetland combined with the fast-moving water on the other side of the grassy area creates a small habitat with characteristics of a much larger one, attracting a vast array of birds.

Besides learning about the differences amongst swallows, other opportunities for learning come about on the bird walks. We passed a shady area abundant with snow plants about which a discussion ensued, led by Michelle Witte, environmental educator at TINS. We learned that the snow plant is parasitic, obtaining sustenance and nutrients from fungi that attach to the roots of trees.

The snow plant lacks chlorophyll, therefore is unable to photosynthesize but survives by tapping into the root/fungi network present at the base of trees, stealing sugars from the tree by way of the fungus.

The snow plant is a bright red plant pushing up from the ground, often through the snow. It looks out of place and now I understand what it is doing there, under the bases of the pine trees.

I chatted with David Fuelling, North Shore resident since November, naturist from a young age, who had some pretty good photos of birds to share. I asked him how he is able to capture such photos, and he said, “Patience. That, and having a good camera”.

A friend told him about the Panasonic Lumix super zoom camera, which provides 60X optical zoom. He says he is still learning, but the pictures he has collected, while not perfect — yet — are certainly exciting to a birder like myself. Find a link to learn about and purchase this camera on

David also shared the iBird Pro Guide to Birds and the iBird Ultimate Guide to Birds which are apps for the smart phone or tablet, $14.99 and $19.99 respectively. David and a few other members of the group recommended these apps to aid in identifying birds.

I chatted also with Sue Shebosky, a visitor from Pennsylvania who searched on-line for local birding opportunities and found the bird walk. She was excited about up-coming events hosted by TINS, so maybe she will return to the area to participate. She was able to capture some photos and was excited to share them with the group.

A local named Anga shared her go-to book, “Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide by John Muir Laws,” a well-organized, compact book and handy reference to birds of the area. Two of us in the group have already ordered ourselves a copy. Find the link on

If you are interested in birds and would like to learn more, you don’t want to miss the Thursday morning bird walks with TINS. There are two more opportunities to attend after today, June 2 and June 9. Meet in the Aspen Grove parking lot at 7:30 a.m.

The walks are free and open to the general public, no pre-registration required. See for information regarding this and other programs.

Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. See the new website: to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.

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